Blame game after Sayedee verdict

Now all top state officials admit flaws in appointing prosecutors, investigators

As justice seekers in every corner of the society are now blaming the prosecution and the probe agency for their incompetency in dealing with the historic cases at the war crimes tribunal, none of the designated high officials of the government are ready to shoulder the responsibility.

Those conducting the cases in the two tribunals were supposed to be praised by people for dealing with the historic war crimes cases. But many of them came under spotlight negatively for their incompetency and suspicious role.

Against these criticisms,  the attorney general, the former law minster and the former junior law minister, while defending themselves, are now blaming each other for recruiting incompetent people and lack of supervision.

Frustration and grievances mounted among people in the last 48 hours after senior Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee’s death penalty was commuted to imprisonment until death at the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

They are raising questions on the poor performance of investigators and prosecutors, incompetency, commitment to get appointment for the jobs and the appointment process. There is also apprehension of money making through secret deals with the defence side.

Open criticisms surfaced occasionally in the last four years over the performance of some prosecutors and grouping among them.

But after Wednesday’s verdict, criticisms, questions and suspicions about the role of prosecutors and investigators have been discussed widely.

Not only the justice seekers, the attorney general – country’s top law officer, and the law minister are also talking openly to the mass media over these issues.

After the verdict, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam at a talk show with a private television channel said: “If you come to know what type of people have been appointed as prosecutors it will give you the creeps.”

He said a lawyer who did not have any experience in dealing criminal cases was also appointed as prosecutor. Mahbubey also cited an example by strongly criticising performance of the investigators.

When asked how such unqualified and incompetent people were appointed and who were responsible for recruiting them, he denied his responsibility saying that he was not involved with the recruitment process.  He, however, gave a hint that former law minster Barrister Shafique Ahmed had been behind the controversial appointments.

Recently, the Appellate Division bench dealing with the war crimes appeal cases blasted the attorney general for not having a helping hand from the tribunal during a hearing.

A judge commented: “There is no court in Bangladesh where so much money is spent. Why then is your condition so dismal? When the [tribunal] prosecutors are on television, they talk a lot…they even tilt their heads to ensure that they are visible on screen. But when it comes to paper, there are no similarities [with their talks on TV]. We can now see what they actually do.”

Against the backdrop of age-old popular demand and 2008 electoral pledge, the Sheikh Hasina-led government in 2010 formed the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), a special prosecution team and the investigation agency to try local war criminals who committed crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War in collaboration with the Pakistani occupation forces.

At that time, Barrister Shafique was the law minister while Advocate Md Qamrul Islam (now food minister) was his deputy.

Shafique at that time was widely criticised by some leading war trial campaigners for not facilitating adequate support and logistics to deal with the cases.

He was seen in a corridor near the chief justice’s courtroom just after the verdict in Sayedee’s case was delivered.

Instantly reacting, he told the Dhaka Tribune: “The Supreme Court delivered the verdict examining deposition of the witnesses and hearing arguments of both sides of the case. So questions cannot be raised about the verdict.”

When yesterday he was contacted for comments on the ongoing controversies, Shafique said: “You better ask Qamrul Shaheb as it is a matter of trial. He brought most of the people in the prosecution team. I only recommended Rana Das Gupta, Zead-Al-Malum, Syed Haider Ali while I had to struggle lot to appoint Tureen Afroze. They are competent.”

The former minister claimed that he had earlier told his colleagues that most of the prosecutors were “good for nothing” and their appointment “waste of money from the exchequer of our poor country.”

“When I talked about appointing competent people, Qamrul Shaheb told me ‘you have always practised law at the High Court and the Supreme Court, so you do not know people in the trial court [where Qamrul practiced before his appointment as the state minister for law].’”

“He [Qamrul] looked into political interests,” Shafique alleged.

Criticised the role of Attorney General  (AG) Mahbubey Alam Shafique said when the lack of skill surfaced within the investigation agency and the prosecution team, he could have asked the prosecution and the probe agency to address the problems.

“Being a minister, I did not have the scope to go to the tribunal, but the attorney general has access to any court. I know he went to the tribunal on several occasions,” said the former law minister.

He also posed a question: “Why is the attorney general saying all these things now after so many years?”

About a dozen of significant war crimes cases have already been disposed of by the two tribunals; verdict on several others are still pending.

The prosecutors became vocal yesterday following Mahbubey’s criticisms though many wished to remain anonymous. They think there was a gap between the offices of the AG’s and the prosecutors’, disabling documentary evidence to be placed before the Appellate Division during the hearing in Sayedee’s appeals case.

Prosecutor Shahidur Rahman told the Dhaka Tribune: “It is obvious that the state counsel who stands for hearing at the apex court needs to consult with the prosecutor concerned who conducted the case at the tribunal.”

On the other hand, Coordinator of the probe agency Sanaul Haque tried to defend performance of the investigators on the same TV programme where the AG openly expressed disappointment over their performance.

Investigator of Sayedee’s case Md Helal Uddin after the verdict told the Dhaka Tribune: “It was the first case of the tribunal and we were not mature enough at the time. We tried our best. If we had started this case now, there would have been a different outcome.”

Law Minister Anisul Huq yesterday reiterated that his ministry had taken initiatives to remove incompetent, inefficient prosecutors considering their failure.

“They will be removed immediately after the verdicts of the pending cases. The ministry has already started working in this regard,” he told the Dhaka Tribune at his secretariat office yesterday.

Two worst examples

AKM Saiful Islam, one of the worst examples of the most incompetent prosecutors was brought from the US and appointed mysteriously. While conducting cases against Jamaat leaders Muhammad Kamaruzzaman and ATM Azharul Islam, the tribunals were irked because of his “misconduct” and “lack of preparation.”

He appeared before the tribunal late, repeatedly. On Oct 2, 2012, Justice ATM Fazle Kabir, then chairman of the tribunal 1, told Saiful: “First learn how to behave with the court, then practise.”

Tribunal 2 Chairman Justice Obaidul Hassan also expressed disappointment over his performance and behaviour, who was finally removed from the prosecution team few weeks back for his “misconduct”. Saiful left the country for the US.

Mystery still shrouds his appointment, similar to that of the first chief of the investigation team, Abdul Matin. Matin was found to be an activist of Islami Chhatra Sangha, student front of Jamaat during the war who had actively been involved in committing genocide, crimes against humanity in collaboration with the Pakistani occupation forces.

Against the backdrop of criticisms, the government removed Matin. But it is yet to be known who had recommended his appointment.

Qamrul blasts Shafique

Following Shafique’s remarks, the Dhaka Tribune last night contacted former state minister for law Qamrul Islam over the phone.

“Shafique Shaheb was the law minister and he appointed all the prosecutors. None of the prosecutors was appointed without his recommendations,” he said.

Expressing disappointment over the remarks of the AG and his former colleague Shafique, the food minister said: “No practising lawyer can blame prosecutors and investigators because of change of punishment in a case. I will not talk about qualification of the prosecutors but I can say there was conflict and differences of opinion among the prosecutors and Mahbubey and Shafique can say about it.”

“I can tell you there was a communist block and an anti-communist block [in prosecution]. He [Shafique] was leader of the communist block. I was with him [in the law ministry] for five years. I have seen his behaviour. I do not want to talk about it now.”

Qamrul said: “Prosecutor Saiful [who has been removed for misconduct] was his [Shafique] junior and he appointed Saiful who did not have any experience in conducting cases. But he [Shafique] brought Saiful from America and appointed him. He left for America without informing anyone.

“Shafique Shaheb kept Tureen Afroze’s appointment pending for a long time.”

Source: Dhaka Tribune

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